Notes before reading…

For the Three Js:
Jaema, Janet, and Jarod

While all books tell a story, every book typically has a back story that details the unique account of its origin; Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is no different. The development of Fahrenheit 451 was neither a straight or direct path, but rather involved a series of short stories – some that were published in pulp and slick magazines and others that were stored away in a three-ring binder. Each piece brought Bradbury closer to the final product, but none as close as The Fireman in 1951 which later morphed into Fahrenheit 451. Surprisingly, when Fahrenheit 451 was complete, Bradbury was struggling with a title for the novella. When the 40th anniversary of Fahrenheit 451 occurred in 1993, Nancy Pate, a book critic for the Orlando Sentinel, shared the story of Bradbury’s struggle which ultimately resulted in the book’s name.

Wanting to know the exact temperature at which books burned, Bradbury called the chemistry departments at several universities, all to no avail. He also asked several physics professors, none of whom knew the exact temperature. It wasn’t until he called the nearest fire station that Bradbury got the answer he was looking for – and the title for Fahrenheit 451.

The compelling topic of Fahrenheit 451 is a journey through magazine archives, American history, and the life of a very creative and ingenious man.

Biographical Sketch
In a northern suburb of Chicago – Waukegan, to be exact – Ray Douglas Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920 to Esther Moberg Bradbury and Leonard Spaulding Bradbury. The Bradbury family continued to live in Waukegan until 1932 and then briefly located to Tucson, Arizona where Ray described his time in an interview with Wayne Johnson (1980) as being, “…one of the greatest years of my life because I was acting and singing in operettas and writing, beginning to write my first short stories.” In the preface to the Match to Flame: The Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury elaborated on this time:

When I was twelve, my folks traveled with me and my brother out to Tucson. Every night when we stopped at a wayside motel I hit the ground running to the nearest library to see if they had the Oz books, or some of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian stories, or even stories by H.G. Wells. In many cases these books were not present, because they were not considered intellectual enough and not bright enough to be passed on to children.

I learned at that time that there were certain controls on libraries and during that time I learned the tragic facts about the burning of the libraries in Alexandria two thousand years ago. I know it’s hard to believe that a twelve year old would be hurt by this knowledge, but by that time I was such a library person that it sank deep into my mind that this was a terrible thing to have happen in the history of mankind. Then, when I was fifteen, Hitler burned books in the streets of Berlin.

Just a year later in 1934, the Bradbury family permanently relocated to Los Angeles, California where Ray later graduated from high school and began selling newspapers in order to pay for a typewriter. In the early years of Bradbury’s career, much of his work was featured in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales and Planet Stories – the term “pulp” is derived from the low-quality paper that was used in producing low-cost publications primarily for the working class. Naturally, as time progressed, Bradbury honed his craft and was published in what is commonly known as “slick” magazines, or those that are printed on a higher quality, glossy-type paper, which are sold for a premium in comparison to the pulp-variety. Bradbury’s stories could be found in periodicals such as Collier’s, Charm, Mademoiselle, The Saturday Evening Post, Maclean’s, Esquire, Harper’s, McCall’s, Life, and even Playboy. Genre-specific publications such as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (commonly known as F&SF) and Galaxy Science Fiction also featured Bradbury.

Development of Fahrenheit 451
After working in magazines and even a few short story anthologies, Bradbury published – Dark Carnival, The Illustrated Man, and The Martian Chronicles – but could no longer ignore the subject of book burnings, a topic he had a passion for since he learned of the destruction of libraries in Alexandria. It was this interest that led to the development of a series of short stories that evolved and coalesced into something much bigger – Fahrenheit 451. It was in the limited edition book Match to Flame in which Bradbury stated that earlier in his career he often credited The Pedestrian as the direct progenitor of Fahrenheit 451; however, he amended his sentiment and cited a collection of short stories, many of which had never been published, as the origins of the novella. The stories are as follows: The Reincarnate, written in 1942 – 1943; Pillar of Fire, written in 1947; The Library, written in 1947 ; Bright Phoenix, written in 1947 – 1948, which was developed from Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright; The Mad Wizards of Mars, first published in 1949, and later in 1950 as The Exiles; The Pedestrian, written in 1950, which helped to create The Fireman; Carnival of Madness, published in 1950, also known as Usher II developed from a 1946 piece titled The Castle; The Mechanical Hound, a fragmentary piece with an unknown date; Bonfire, written in the late 1940s; The Cricket on the Hearth, written in 1951; The Garbage Collector, written in 1952; The Smile, written no later than 1947; Where Ignorant Armies Clash by Night, written in 1947; and Long After Midnight, written in 1950, and later renamed The Fireman.

It is certainly worth noting that in March of 2010, a small Michigan specialty publisher by the name of Subterranean Press published a book that is more affordable for the masses, A Pleasure to Burn: Fahrenheit 451 Stories, which consists of polished versions of the stories that were included in Match to Flame – sans the essays, facsimiles, sketches, and notes. A Pleasure to Burn included three additional “bonus” stories: The Dragon Who Ate His Tail, Sometime Before Dawn, and To the Future.

Unlike many authors who write their stories at home or in a cafe, such as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter in a university basement. In 2000 when Bradbury was recognized by the National Book Foundation with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, he provided an amazing account of the process:

So when it comes to a novel like Fahrenheit 451, I don’t know how many of you know, but I wrote it in the library, the basement at UCLA. This is 50 years ago. I had no money to rent a proper office. I had a large family at home and I needed to have a place where I could go for a few hours. I was wandering around the UCLA campus and I looked down below and I listened and down in the basement I heard this typing. So I went down in the basement of the UCLA library and by God there was a room with 12 typewriters in it that you could rent for 10 cents a half-hour. And there were eight or nine students in there working away like crazy, so I moved in there one day with a bag of dimes and I began inserting dimes into the machine and the machine released the typewriter and you’d have half an hour of fast typing. I ran upstairs in between sessions.

Can you imagine what it was like to write Fahrenheit 451 in the library where you could run upstairs and feel the ambiance of your beloved writers; and you could take books off the shelf and discover things that you might want to put in your book as a quote and then run back down and finish writing another page. So over a period of nine days I spent $9.80 and I wrote Fahrenheit 451.

Just after Bradbury completed Fahrenheit 451, he was approached by the editor of Playboy who was looking for a story. At that particular time, the magazine was just getting started with its first edition being published in December of 1953. Prior to the novel being published by Ballantine, Bradbury claims to have sold it to Playboy for $400. The story was subsequently serialized and published in the second through fourth issues of the magazine thus giving new meaning to the ever-popular line, “I like the articles.”

Publication of Fahrenheit 451
Tracking down the publication history of Fahrenheit 451 proved to be somewhat of a challenge as the majority of publications concerning the novella focus almost exclusively on literary analysis. Fortunately in 2011, a forward-thinking graduate student at Indiana University by the name of Amanda Kay Barrett produced an impressive and stunning descriptive bibliography for Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – which just happened to be reviewed by Jonathan R. Eller, chair of the English department, and co-editor of Match to Flame: The Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451. The following paragraphs will summarize Barrett’s findings in order of edition.

Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953 by Ballantine Books which is now an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group. The so-called first edition of the book — which included the controversial expurgated “edition” – had a total of seventeen issues; one issue was actually bound in asbestos, and five Canadian printings for a total of forty-seven printings that ran well into 1977. The second (1954) and third (1957) editions were published overseas in London by Rupert-Hart Davis, The Science Fiction Book Club, Corgi-Transworld, and Panther-Granada.

In 1967, New York-based Simon and Schuster published the fourth edition of Fahrenheit 451. Two editions, the fifth in 1968 and the sixth in 1972, were published in Canada by MacMillan and Fitzenry and Whiteside respectively. The seventh edition in 1976 was published exclusively in London by Grafton-Collins, Flamingo-HarperCollins, HarperCollins, and Voyager-HarperCollins. The conglomerate Ballantine / Random House / Del Ray published the ninth (1979), tenth (1981), and eleventh (1981) editions of the novella. In 1982, The Limited Editions Club of New York published the twelfth edition.

London-based Collins Education / HarperCollins published the thirteenth edition in 1985, which was subsequently reprinted in 1989, 1991, and 1994. Once again returning to domestic soil, the fourteenth edition was published in 1988 by Ballantine / Random House which consisted of nine issues that ran into August of 1996. Printing of the fifteenth edition (1988) returned overseas; however, this time by Chivers Press in Bath, England and it was set in large type. The sixteenth edition (1991) was published by Easton Press in Norwalk, Connecticut which had three issues running to 2000.

The remaining editions of Fahrenheit 451 were published as follows: seventeenth edition (1993) – Simon and Schuster as well as Quality Paperback Book Club in New York; eighteenth edition (1994) – Buccaneer Books in Cutchogue, New York; nineteenth edition (1997) – G.K Hall in Thorndike, Maine; the twentieth edition was titled Fahrenheit 451 and Related Readings (1998) – McDougal Littell / Houghton Mifflin in Evanston, Illinois; twenty-first edition (2005) – Long Beach Public Library Foundation / Angel City Press in Long Beach, California; twenty-second edition (2005) – Graham in Los Angeles, California; twenty-third edition (2005) – Angel City Press in California; twenty-fourth edition (2008) – Wheeler Publishing in Detroit, Michigan; and, last but not least, the twenty-fifth edition (2008) which Barrett labeled as the “Banned Books edition” was published in the United Kingdom.

Despite much resistance from Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 was released in e-book format in November of 2011. In interviews over the years, Bradbury has adamantly expressed disdain for the e-book movement and stated that they “smell liked burned fuel.” According to Italie (2011), Bradbury’s long-time agent, Michael Congdon, stated that the rights for the book were soon going to expire and “a new contract wouldn’t be possible without e-book rights… He understood and gave us the right to go ahead.” In press associated with the release of the e-book format, cumulative publication statistics have been cited at over ten million copies sold and translation in more than thirty-three languages. Impressive.

Reception of Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 was published during a very unique and tense time in American history, the infamous Cold War. The effects of the Cold War were broad and far-reaching, even touching the library and information science field as well as the publishing industry with challenges to materials that were written by communists, thought to be in favor of communism, or deemed “subversive.” In July of 1950, Ruth Brown, librarian at Bartlesville Public Library in Oklahoma, was terminated from her long-time position due to two periodicals on the library’s shelves: New Republic and Soviet Russia Today. According to Robbins (2001), while overseas libraries were purged of specific materials, Dan Lacy, who had worked for the Library of Congress and made the transition to the American Book Publishers Council, diligently worked to prevent a “black list” of authors from entering the scene on American soil.

Some interpreted the publication of Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 as a direct result of the political culture and McCarthyism. In fact, while attempting to track down the publication history of Fahrenheit 451, it was challenging to move through the superabundance of literary analysis available – most of which asserted that the novella was indeed based on the premise of governmental censorship. A survey of the cataloging information located on the book’s verso found the following subject headings: state-sponsored terrorism—fiction, totalitarianism—fiction, book burning—fiction, and censorship—fiction. In November of 2000, Bradbury gave an acceptance speech when he was awarded by the board of the National Book Foundation with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. It was in this speech that Bradbury touched on McCarthyism and Fahrenheit 451:

…But, later Ballantine Books came along and they wanted me to add some material to it so I wrote another 2,500 words. That was during the Joseph McCarthy period. He was giving a bad time to a number of people and I wrote the additional pages to Fahrenheit 451. I still needed some extra income because my family was growing, and I tried to sell it to various magazines who were afraid of the subject matter because Joseph McCarthy was making such a ruckus in the country.

In a 2007 LA Weekly article, in which Bradbury was interviewed, clarification about Fahrenheit 451 was offered for the masses:

Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship. Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands. This, despite the fact that reviews, critiques and essays over the decades say that is precisely what it is all about. Even Bradbury’s authorized biographer, Sam Weller, in The Bradbury Chronicles, refers to Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship. Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.

Karolides, Bald, and Sova (2005), capture the very essence of the novella in their summary, “One of a number of dystopic novels published after World War II, the work portrays humans as having lost touch with the natural world, with the world of intellect and with each other…”

Even the Russians had it wrong. In 1961, Bradbury partnered with librarian and intellectual freedom writer for the ALA Bulletin, Everett T. Moore, for an article about Fahrenheit 451 which closed with an interesting tidbit about an unauthorized translation. Moore wrote:

Mr. Bradbury adds, in passing, that the Russians, thinking he had written an exclusive criticism of McCarthyism in the U.S.A., pirated Fahrenheit 451 a few years ago. Published and sold in an edition of some 500,000 copies, the authorities suddenly discovered he meant tyranny over the mind at any time or place. “In sum,” he says: “Russia, too. The novel has now gone underground, I hear. Which makes me, I gather, the clean Henry Miller of the Soviets.”

Aside from the turbulent political climate in which the book was published, Fahrenheit 451 has experienced controversy on its own. According to Sova (2006), in 1967 when producing an edition of Fahrenheit 451 targeting high schools, Ballantine Books censored over seventy-five passages due to concerns over language and eliminated two scenes without notice to Bradbury or adding notation to the copyright information on the verso. Unfortunately, the expurgated edition of the book ran for a total of ten printings and later became the only available edition when Ballantine ceased printing the “adult” version in 1973. It wasn’t until 1979 when an observant friend made Bradbury aware of the expurgated edition which was then subsequently rectified with the publisher after years of printing and book sales. After the debacle with Ballantine, Bradbury added a long coda that launched into the issue of censorship and which is known for the highly quoted passage:

In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whis­per with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.

Since 1980, the unexpurgated “adult” version has been the only “edition” available for sale.

The controversy didn’t end there. In 1992, Joan Dann, an eighth grade English teacher at Venado Middle School located in Irvine, California, less than an hour away from Los Angeles, issued copies of the book Fahrenheit 451 to students which had portions of the text blacked out. A Seattle Times article stated that the Dann claims to not have blacked out the text in the books, but rather over the years, has asked students to cross out obscenities as they have read the novella. The article went on to offer administrative perspectives:

“I don’t think that we should go through a book and mark things out,” Venado Principal Bob Bruce said. “It won’t happen in the future,” said Irvine Unified School District Superintendent David Brown. Did Brown sense the irony involved? Yes, he said. “It’s huge. That’s what the book was all about.”

Certainly worth noting, Fahrenheit 451 is not among the works cited on the American Library Association’s “Banned and Challenged Classics” list or the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 1990 – 1999” list. However, strangely enough, the novella landed itself in 69th place on the “Top 100” for 2000 – 2009 in between Always Running by Luis Rodriguez and Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen. However, on a more positive note, Fahrenheit 451 was recognized on The Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels (The Reader’s List), as well as achieving acknowledgement from many other prestigious literary establishments.

Over the years, Bradbury has remained in the headlines and has been recognized for his prolific and successful career spanning many different mediums including film, television, and radio. In 2000, he was awarded by the board of the National Book Foundation with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters as well as the National Medal of Arts in 2004 presented by President George Walker Bush. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America changed the Nebula award to the Ray Bradbury Award (The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation). Columbia University, in 2007, awarded Bradbury Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Also in 2007, the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University opened The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies with Match to Flame co-editor Jonathan Eller as director. Bradbury has loved his career as a writer and in a 2009 interview with the New York Times, he said the following, “Children ask me, ‘How can I live forever, too?’ I tell them do what you love and love what you do. That’s the story on my life.”

With renewed interest in dystopian fiction, courtesy of books such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Maze Runner by James Dashner, yet another generation is becoming acquainted with the novella Fahrenheit 451 — which is still very much alive after fifty-eight years of being solely in print. While releasing the novella in digital format might align with the horrors portrayed in Fahrenheit 451 and conflict with Bradbury’s wishes, it insures the survival of the literary masterpiece for generations to come. May Fahrenheit 451 live forever.

Sources

  • Bradbury, R. (2012). Fahrenheit 451. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  • Bradbury, R., Albright, D., & Eller, J. (2006). Match to flame: The fictional paths to Fahrenheit 451. Colorado Springs, CO: Gauntlet Publications.
  • Bradbury, R., Albright, D., & Eller, J. (2010). A pleasure to burn: Fahrenheit 451 stories. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press.
  • Johnson, W.L. (1980). Ray Bradbury. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar.
  • Karolides, N.J., Bald, M., & Sova, D.B. (2005). 120 banned books: Censorship histories of world literature. New York, NY: Checkmark Books.
  • Robbins, L.S. (2001). The overseas libraries controversy and the freedom to read: U.S. libraries and publishers confront Joseph McCarthy. Libraries & Culture, 36(1), 27-39.
  • Sova, D.B. (2006). Banned books: Literature suppressed on social grounds. New York, NY: Facts on File.